How Many More Stories Like This Will We Have To Read Before People Face Facts
A review by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSC) of child sexual exploitation in the borough has highlighted failings in safeguarding vulnerable young people in the borough. It looked at the case study of a young woman named as “Suzie”.
Suzie, then aged 15, disclosed on two separate occasions to “two different agencies” that she had been the victim of serious sexual assaults by adults linked to takeaways in Rochdale.
The possibility she was being sexually exploited was not recognised by police. The professional focus was on “providing individual support services for Suzie and on assisting her parents to set boundaries to keep her safe”, the report found.
It added: “It seems, however, that these actions had little impact on Suzie’s circumstances.” She remained at risk of sexual harm, compounded by her abuse of alcohol and possibly drugs.
Suzie “catalogued” her experience of abuse and exploitation to the council’s Crisis Intervention Team. She was interviewed by Greater Manchester Police (GMP), which now acknowledges that the investigation of her detailed complaint was poor.
A further referral of Suzie was made to Rochdale children’s social care but again no action took place as she was considered, at 16 years old, to be “making her own choices”. Children’s social care’s focus shifted to the welfare of Suzie’s unborn child when it was reported she was pregnant.
Suzie withdrew her complaint, as she was frightened of the repercussions and did not have confidence in the police and social services’ ability to protect her from those who had abused her. But despite the retraction, GMP charged a number of men with offences against Suzie and other children.
Suzie continued to have the support of specialist sexual health and alcohol services in the following months. However, children’s social care ended its involvement with Suzie as a “child in need”, while at the same time an initial assessment was made of her capacity to provide care for her child.
Some months later Suzie disclosed further abuse to GMP and she was referred again to children’s social care, which did not act on the referral. The agency was concerned for her baby’s safety due to the risk posed by her alcohol misuse and by male visitors to the family home.
Suzie disclosed more abuse to GMP and a number of arrests were made. No charges were brought but the perpetrators, who worked as taxi‐drivers, had their licences suspended and discussions with taxi proprietors took place.
A man was arrested as a result of Suzie’s evidence and the following month GMP launched Operation Span which investigated widespread allegations of grooming and sexual exploitation of vulnerable children and young girls in Rochdale.
In the following weeks it was evident that Suzie’s mental health was deteriorating. She was self‐harming, drinking excessively and going missing for periods of time. Child protection processes were instigated for her baby.
Suzie’s circumstances were considered by the Serious Case Review Screening Group of Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB). In the same month, a child sexual exploitation strategy meeting considered information about her.
Children’s social care undertook an initial assessment, which identified a number of concerns about Suzie’s welfare, including alcohol misuse, self‐harming behaviour and going missing. No action was taken in respect of Suzie, who was approaching her 18th birthday.
Premises in Rochdale suspected to be associated with the sexual exploitation of children were identified through regular meetings held between the licensing authority, the police and the Sunrise Team – the multi-agency body examining child sex exploitation.
In addition, checks were carried out around local schools, with taxi drivers questioned and their legitimacy examined.